Monday, 31 March 2014


I like the image of Chuck Wendig's "When Haters Give You Lemons" post, where he finishes his riff on the cliched saying with "Make haterade". It conjures up a little wordless scene where someone hands another person a hateful lemon. The recipient looks at it in his hand, looks up at the hater, with his hateful scowl, and squishes his head with a horrible squishy sound.

If I ever get hated on for making art - even art I know is bad - then I'm going to imagine that squishy sound.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Right now, I'm too obscure to be hated.
PPS - Which is actually kind of depressing.

Friday, 28 March 2014

How IMDb could make my life a bit easier

An app that would make my life so much easier would be photo face recognition for TV actors. A lot of my time watching TV seems to be spent looking up actors in IMDb and finding out where else we've seen them. The IMDb app is not really built for this. It's built to avoid overwhelming your screen and data connection by showing only the most relevant information for any given context that you happen to be viewing, but the path between the show we're watching and the full filmography of a particular extra on a particular episode is so long that and such a common operation for me that I frequently long for optimisation.

The path right now is:

IMDb -> search -> show name -> All episodes -> season -> episode -> All cast -> actor name -> All filmography -> [As] actor.

What I'd like is:

IMDb -> who's that (face recognition from camera) -> search results -> actor (all filmography displayed on same page).

Even better would be limiting the filmography to only what I've actually seen, but that would mean IMDb knowing everything I've seen. That would either be a creepy invasion of privacy or a lot of data entry. Or perhaps an import from Quickflix.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Quickflix doesn't know all about me, though.
PPS - I'm pretty sure I don't remember everything I've ever seen.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Unusable software doesn't mean it's complicated

There's a weird perversity in some circles of software development where difficulty of use is a point of pride. The twisted reasoning goes that, if you have mastered something that is very difficult, then you must be very good, and the task performed by that software must be exceptional too. The online support communities get quite snarky at newbies (presumably because the n00bs couldn't possibly understand what we geniuses are doing up here in the stratosphere) and nobody aims to make the software easier to use, not just because that sounds like "dumbing it down", but because they literally cannot imagine another way.

The problem is often that the biggest difficulty in the system is the badly designed software obscuring what should be a relatively simple task. Oracle database developers vs Microsoft SQL Server is an example I have seen in practice.

SQL Server is a robust, full-featured program that runs reliably and doesn't require constant hand-holding from developers. The online community is helpful and professional. Oracle is less stable, much more complicated to operate and operations that are simple in SQL Server require a lot of time and effort to accomplish in Oracle. The online community is elitist and hostile, in general, though there are some helpful people too.

Why should this be the case? Both programs are database servers. Both do essentially the same thing, but one does it better in terms of usability, and that seems to follow through to the community online.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My experience with Oracle is second-hand, but I trust my colleague.
PPS - I used to think the same way as those snarky, unhelpful ones. I've changed my mind.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Specialised currencies and revoking value

When you pre-pay for phone call credit, you are really just releasing some funds to your phone company to use. The same is true of my public transport card and store gift cards. This is what makes it all the more infuriating, to me, when companies decide that you've had long enough to use that money and confiscate it. This is routine policy in all the examples I've noted above. So what gives companies the right to take your money for the crime of taking too long to spend it? I think there's something deeply wrong there.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't have a pre-paid phone, but I've had store gift cards expire.
PPS - That really should mean "refunded".

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


Optimisation will never lead to real breakthroughs, only incrementally better or more focused versions of what you have now.

If you look at your sales data and see that most of your customers are male, then you start designing for men, you might sell more or better to those men, but you're going to miss the opportunities to think of new products that women want, or that everyone wants.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - To make real breakthroughs, you need to look at the situation fresh.
PPS - Don't optimise before you're finished.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Australian privacy laws and information security

With the new privacy laws in Australia, companies that deal with confidential data, such as my current employer, will need to take some extraordinary measures to try and control what data is copied externally. For instance, any flash drive plugged into a computer will need to be an encrypted, pre-approved device. This raises a few questions and problems. For starters, how do you even enforce a policy like that? It will have to be done at a system level, rather than an external guideline, or else we are not meeting our requirements. I don't think Windows has any way to do that, though I wouldn't know for sure. And if it does, how do you make sure that nobody can get around it? The control would have to be at a very low level, or else people will be able to bring in a live Linux drive, plug that in and work around all the security you set up in Windows. And if there's a security vulnerability discovered in the encryption software you use, which there may be, how do you make sure the flash drives all get updated?

Next, for anything you do allow to be copied off the machine, you need an audit trail to say who copied it, where and when. That's more complicated still. It's a DRM problem, and those always involve twisted thinking. There's always a hole.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Securing a computer against its own users means it's not really a computer any more.
PPS - I guess we just do our best and hope it's enough.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Personal backup recommendation update

I'm going to adjust my recommendations for personal offsite backup for you photos and videos, but not by much. I used to say "burn your photos and videos to a DVD and take that to work". These days, I have more than that. Lots more. So my new recommendation is to buy a portable hard drive and set up SyncToy (from Microsoft) to keep all your personal media synchronised to the drive. Bring it home every now and then, sync to it, then carry it back to work. If you've got the space on your work PC, you can sync to that hard drive, too, and use the external drive just for carrying the large data sets.

This is more expensive than the DVD option. If you've got small enough collections, you might do better to buy a large flash drive rather than a huge portable hard drive. Use your own judgement on that. One suggestion, though: don't bring it home every single weekend. If your house catches fire on a weekend, then you're still boned. Mix it up.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is also relevant since many computers are being sold without disc burners these days.
PPS - I'm not sure what to do if a tablet is your primary computer. Online backup is probably your best bet.

Thursday, 20 March 2014


I keep a lot of windows open on my computer most of the time. At work, I'd typically have email, web browser (with up to 10 tabs), several file browser windows, two simple note-taking programs, a project timer, one personal wiki, one plain text file editor, a development environment and, quite often, a database management window. That doesn't count Dropbox, TeamViewer and Belvedere, the apps that run in my system tray. Oh, and I forgot Wunderlist, my action list program.

Is that excessive? Perhaps. Maybe it's a case of laziness or impatience. If I close things down when I'm not focused on them, I need to spend extra time doing that when I switch away, and I need to spend extra time waiting for it to come back when I need it again. This is about speed and convenience. It's how I need my computer to work for me. Quickly and without getting in the way.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I try to write my software that way, too.
PPS - It's why my note-taking program doesn't need a "new note" button. You jus start typing.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Defaults can trump quality

Defaults can trump quality more easily than you might think. There are several better web browsers in existence than Internet Explorer, but since IE is the default on Windows, that's what a staggering number of people use. Lots of other programs out-perform Adobe Reader for displaying PDFs, but, again, it's the default program and that can mean more than quality. If a default option is easy and works well enough, very few people are going to go looking for the best option, or even a slightly better one.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is also how a lot of fast food places stay in business.
PPS - And a fair few TV shows.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Cleaning externalities

Practically everything about the quality of their work is an externality to a contract cleaner - it doesn't affect them. If the toilet looks mostly clean and they won't get fired for it, that's good enough. If the paper rolls are loaded the wrong way around for the dispenser and they're glued together, that can be a frustration for anyone who uses the bathroom, but not to the cleaner if it won't get them fired. If the floor is vacuumed in all the major traffic areas, but not behind the plants or under the stairs every day, that's good enough. Pretty much everything falls into that category. It is in their best interests to do their job just barely well enough to avoid getting fired. That is the only way their work directly affects them.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Once you start noticing half-hearted cleaning, you keep seeing it everywhere.
PPS - So, I guess I'm sorry for doing that to you.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Cushy jobs

The cushy jobs have to go to the stupid people. Do you want the best and brightest wasting their time somewhere that their work is essentially meaningless? Do you want the dummies in charge of critical, high-pressure situations?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Some would say dummies in power is how we ended up with failed banks.
PPS - I think that was greed, though.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Proposal quid pro quo

There may come a day when the response to a marriage proposal becomes as important as the proposal itself. I mean, do you want someone to go to the trouble of arranging a flash mob dance number with fireworks and a lion tamer only to say a simple "yes" at the end? A mere "yes" hardly does such effort justice, does it? Instead, you should go and plan your own surprise event with skywriting, fire jugglers and jet ski ramp jumps to deliver your positive response. It's only fair.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Where are those YouTube videos?
PPS - At some point in the distant future, I guess.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

We need a mobile power breakthrough

We really do need a breakthrough in mobile computing. We keep wanting to run more powerful processors with bigger screens and more demanding software in a thinner package. The end result is dramatically reduced battery life, to the point that you can barely get through your waking hours on one full battery charge. People have started to look at this problem, but the answers so far are other ways to charge up - at the desk at work, a luggable backup battery, even solar panels. These stop-gap measures only stand in the way. We will soon end up with high-end phones that you unplug at 6am and expect to have dead batteries by the time you get home from work, without even really using it.

More compact battery technology would be a start, but our advances in this space have been incremental rather than revolutionary. Lower-power hardware would help, but probably not enough, especially if we take that as a cue to run ever more demanding software on it. Basically, our increasing demands on mobile computing technology are slowly eroding the very thing we designed them for. Eventually, if we continue on this path, the advantages of mobile will disappear altogether because the batteries suck so hard that they need to sit in a charging cradle non-stop.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Every couple of years I get a new phone and have to charge it more often. Right now it's often twice per day.
PPS - I know I wrote about this not too long ago, but it keeps coming up.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Windows Experience Index should consider RAM amount

I think it's a shame that the Windows Experience Index only takes RAM speed into account, not the RAM amount. You could be running Windows 7 on 2GB of very fast memory, and the Experience Index will tell you that is very good when, in fact, it's not good enough.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My computers all say they'd do better with a beefier graphics card.
PPS - I don't know if I've ever run a high-end graphics card in my machines.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The speed of progress indicators

As humans, we make progress on monotonous tasks in an uneven way. When we start out, we're full of energy and tend to make quick progress. In the middle, we're tired of it and there seems to be no end in sight, so we go more slowly. Near the end, we speed up again because we're getting closer and we just want to finish.

Computers, of course, are not like that. They make progress evenly, and so they should. Perhaps, however, we should scale progress indicator bars to allow for that fast-slow-fast pattern and make it look more natural to people. For the first parts of the task, mark off sections of the progress bar quickly, then slow down in the middle, then speed it up again at the end. I'd like to do some testing to see whether this affects people's perception of the speed of the task. It might actually turn out to be better to reverse the process, going very slowly at the beginning when users have the high energy to allow for that, speed up in the middle to offset the user's lowered energy, and slow down again at the end.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Some progress bars already seem to be fast in the middle and slow at the end.
PPS - So maybe someone already thought of this.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Hotel price comparison comparison, ad nauseum

Every hotel has a booking website. To make the comparisons easier, people have set up separate price comparison websites. But which one of those should you use? Perhaps we need a hotel price meta-comparison website, to help you find the best hotel comparison website before you start actually comparing hotels.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Just make sure we don't set up more than one of those.
PPS - Because that would get really messy.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Taxonomy doesn't lead to understanding

A lot of what I would call "taxonomic philosophy" questions, such as "do digital natives exist?" or "is this thing a 'real' game or not?" disappear when you consider what the results of the answer will be. If you figure out whether a certain piece of interactive art is a game or not, what will be the outcome of that answer? Will people have more or less fun playing it? Will its value go up or down? I don't think anything much changes, and that's the point. There's a difference between understanding something and classifying it. Classification is not an act of understanding but of filing and grouping. That doesn't really lead to anything but more refined definitions of the classifications that you yourself developed. If other people don't agree with those classifications, then there's very little basis to argue with them. You drew an imaginary line and said "these things belong here", but so what if they don't? Knowing the type of thing to call a particular object, person or concept doesn't put you in any closer relationship with it. In fact, it may distance you from it, because if you only play "real" games, there are all kinds of experiences, many of them positive, that you will never have, just because you decided already what did and did not fit into your world.

In short, classification and its related questions do not lead to deeper understanding.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We should do less of them.
PPS - And we should do more understanding of each other.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Motion-sensor lights

In what rooms of the house does it make sense to change all light switches to motion sensors? I think the only place it wouldn't make sense is anywhere you want it to remain dark - the bedroom and maybe home theatre. Everywhere else, it makes more sense, to me, to have motion sensors so that the lights are only on when people are present, and, furthermore, come on automatically when people arrive. I've seen motion-sensor lights becoming more common in offices. I think they'll start being used in homes before too long.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You probably still need kill-switches for when you're going to change the bulbs.
PPS - Or else it would be like a heist movie every time as you try to move slowly enough not to set it off.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Spotting found footage fakes

Whenever alleged "found footage" begins a few seconds before the amazing, once-in-a-lifetime occurrence or the blink-and-you-miss-it weirdness, you should be suspicious.

It usually looks like several seconds of why-would-you-film-this banality until someone suddenly says "OMG LOOK AT THAT!" and the camera swivels around to see the monster/alien/cryptid/magic for a second. Real footage of such unusual events would begin several seconds after the exclamation, at best, and that's if someone whips out their phone immediately. Also, anything that zooms in was probably not filmed on a phone.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not actually that familiar with high-end phone cameras.
PPS - They might zoom. But I doubt anyone thinks of that in the moment.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Amazon should have Kindle sales events like Steam

Amazon should take a cue from Steam and run limited-time specials on Kindle ebooks and send me email when books on my wish list go on sale. I'd end up buying more books, I'm sure, just the way I've bought a lot of games from Steam that I don't have time to play.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps their publisher agreements don't allow that.
PPS - Which is the equivalent of "we don't like money", but that's their loss.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Working better with YouTube subscriptions

When I subscribe to a YouTube channel, I do so because I want to watch basically everything they upload, or I at least want to have a clear view of new uploads on that channel. The best possible arrangement, for me, would be to have all new uploads from my subscription channels added automatically to my Watch Later playlist. For now, here's the best solution I've found:

Get an RSS Feed Of Your Youtube Subscriptions

This page describes how to get an RSS feed for all your subscriptions, which you can use in any news reader of your choice. I've added it to Feedly, which I use for my news since Google set fire to Google Reader. Anyway, it's a fairly simple matter of making your subscriptions public, finding your user ID and pasting it into a GData URL. It looks pretty good to me so far.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's made my subscriptions useful, anyway.
PPS - I like working with single feeds for similar purposes.